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LL Cool J: Nice Guys Finish First


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LL Cool J: Nice Guys Finish First

By Amanda Diva

What comprises a legend? Some would say it's commitment. That one's chance at leaving a legacy hinges on the dedication to their craft and diligence in perfecting it Others say it's heart. That one's passion drives them to do whatever necessary to guide them to that supreme success. Lastly, there are those that insist legends are a player a higher power’s divine plan – that God's will determines destiny. According to LL Cool J, it has been all three.

These days, most artists are lucky to get a second single, let alone drop another album. In spite of it all, James Todd Smith has defied the odds releasing the 11th installment of his recording career, aptly titled Todd Smith. The album is chock-full of cameo appearances from the likes of Mary J. Blige, Mary Mary, Ne-Yo, Freeway, Juelz Santana and Teairra Mari. Here, the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time,” takes a moment to reflect on his career and the choices, Hip-Hop’s evolution, and God's role in the continuing saga of Mr. Smith.

AllHipHop.com: You’re one of the longest running recording artist in Hip-Hop and that’s a fact.

LL Cool J: You know what, I’m just a... God has blessed me. That’s the first thing I think that, you know, recognizing a blessing is very important. Having that ability to know that you’re blessed, and knowing that God has his hand on you. When God puts his hand on something, nobody can move it, you know. So beyond that, I really don’t have the answer. I don’t know how I’m able to do what I’m doing. I don’t have the answers. If I did, I’d be ten times what [i am]. What I can say, just in terms of just my part in the deal so to speak, has been just to love what I’m doing, to believe in what I’m doing - to work hard and not be lazy, to not feel like I know it all and to not be afraid to take risks, to not be afraid to look foolish and look stupid. I don’t have a fear of criticism.

AllHipHop.com: Understood, can you expand on that?

LL Cool J: Like in Hip-Hop, things that are weak - or perceived to be weak, can be strong, and the things that are perceived to be strong, can be weak. For example, let’s take something like a love song. You know when I first started doing love songs, it was perceived differently by the male audience, [within] the Hip-Hop audience. [You were] Just soft or you’re emotional, whatever you want to call it. But I think that the reality is when you’re willing to expose what’s going on inside of you, and you’re willing to put your emotions out there, it’s actually strong. So I think it takes a lot of courage to do different things.

AllHipHop.com: So when you started rhyming, did you see an end in sight at all?

LL Cool J: No, I never seen anything that had a limit to it. I kind of feel like when you started something and you start talking about, “I’m only gonna be rhyming this long,” and “I’m only gonna do it that long,” what you’re really saying is you’re gonna stop before you fall. This is not to slight any one [but] that’s really fear talking.

AllHipHop.com: What would you consider one of those mistakes that you made?

LL Cool J: I mean I make jillions of mistakes. I’ve spent money. I’ve you know wasted money.

AllHipHop.com: Music wise. Any records that you think were a mistake? Or that people didn’t get, that you put out there with one kind of idea and the people didn’t get?

LL Cool J: No, my art, I don’t have any regrets with my art. I don’t see any mistakes in my art. You know, everybody’s not gonna like everything. There’s nothing that you can do about that. And you have to understand that. And everybody’s not gonna be your fan. And that’s okay. It’s like artists that paint paintings, you know, you just paint. It’s no regret. You know what I’m saying? You just paint.

AllHipHop.com: Do you find it easier to create, you know your masterpieces and what not in this climate where you are in your career right now or do you think it was easier when there was no pressure?

LL Cool J: There’s no pressure now. There was, there’s never any pressure.

AllHipHop.com: Never, there’s never any pressure?

LL Cool J: No. There’s no pressure. What is the pressure?

AllHipHop.com: Well, pressure to succeed. Pressure to, you know produce for the label, pressure to keep career flow.

LL Cool J: See, I understand what you’re saying. You know, I just kinda get in the zone, and operate from that place. I don’t have pressure to produce for a label. What I’m supposed to do is have faith, [and] make the best product I can. I make the best music I can from the heart, and then go out and do all I can to support it. And leave it at that. If so, what pressure? I mean I don’t, you know --

AllHipHop.com: In a percentage, how much of your recording career at this point is love and how much of it is money?

LL Cool J: Hundred percent love.

AllHipHop.com: Really?

LL Cool J: Absolutely. You have to love something to be with it for a long time. Look at marriages: you can’t be with somebody for money forever. No matter how much you try, at some point, it’s gonna just wear thin on you. It’s just gonna be difficult. The money thing is the effect. But the cause is love. You cannot tell me that Michael Jordan got as good as he got at basketball for money. You can’t tell me that Kobe [bryant] got that good for money. Like, it’s no way you can get that good. Tiger Woods, you can’t get that good at something without loving it. But the money will come because that’s the beauty of God’s system. Now remember, I didn’t say [nice guys finish last]. You can be a nice guy, but nice guys finish last when they’re stupid - not because they’re nice guys.

AllHipHop.com: Because they’re idiots.

LL Cool J: Right. Nice guys finish last when they’re stupid. So I didn’t say be dumb. I didn’t say don’t do the best deal you can. I didn’t say don’t ask for as much money or create and generate as much revenue as you can for your life and your family. I said love what you do.

AllHipHop.com: What do you like and what do you not like about the game right now, in Hip-Hop’s current state?

LL Cool J: What I don’t like is the fact that it seems like we can’t figure out anything for our women to do but strip for us. You know, that’s no disrespect to young ladies that are going through that, because you never know why a woman does what she does, or man. So you can’t judge people. But at the same time, we can lift our girls up. You know, the music can lift them up. It wouldn’t hurt us. It wouldn’t hurt anybody to lift them up, and to embrace them, and you know give them some love, because you got to remember that. You know it’s kinda like you know we’re catering to the weakness in all of us.

AllHipHop.com: Right.

LL Cool J: But you know, at the same time, I respect a lot of young artists. I think that they’re talented. I think that there’s a lot of great music out there. I think that there are a lot of people out there that are impressive for various reasons - whether it’s their music, or what their accomplishments are, or their business acumen.

AllHipHop.com: So sell me and the readers this new album…

LL Cool J: I wanted the Todd Smith record to just be a record that was displaying even more of me, the inside of me that [only] my family gets to see everyday. The side of me that grew up next door to you. The guy who loves gardens, the guy who loves his family, to be really, really honest and put together some music that’s gonna unify the community, and keep the theme. The theme of the record consistent and constantly bringing people together with the music. All different types of you know musicians and artists, different genres. But primarily you know Hip-Hop and R&B.

AllHipHop.com: With this album, what are you trying to say?

LL Cool J: The theme on this record is unity, just unifying. Or touching on a subject that could possible tear people apart, but if you can address them and find healing, they’ll bring you together. The Hip-Hop community and the Black community- we need to be closer. There’s a need for more unity and the need for togetherness.

AllHipHop.com: What do you think is tearing us apart?

LL Cool J: I think that materialism is tearing us apart to a certain extent, because the materialism turns everything into a dog-eat-dog situation. It makes everybody like at the beginning of the hockey game, everybody going for the puck, ridiculous, with no regard for anything else that’s going on around them. It’s not the money, remember money is neutral. It’s nebulous.

AllHipHop.com: You recently launched your clothing line, Todd Smith. You seem to be a master of all trades…

LL Cool J: No, you know what, it’s a couple of things. First of all, I try to balance it and I do try to balance everything. But you know there’s certain spiritual principles at work. Like, you know I pay my tithe, you know tithing is when you give ten percent of what comes into your life economically to your local church. I take ten percent or more of my money, and give it to God and I make sure that I support His Kingdom. That’s why if you really look at my career, it seems like timing is impeccable. But it’s not because I’m so smart, and because I’m able to really map it out like that, it’s because God has blessed me.

AllHipHop.com: I just finished reading Raising Hell: The Autobiography of Run-D.M.C., And it talks a lot about the intense rivalry that you and Run had or supposedly had. Is this true and can you speak on it?

LL Cool J: Oh yeah, yeah. Me and Run definitely – well, it wasn’t much of a rivalry really, because when we were on tour, they were just beating me up every night. It really wasn’t that much of a rivalry. I guess I was seeing the results of what he was feeling, because they were whooping me out every night. But one thing [about] going on tour, Run-D.M.C. taught me was how to perform. They taught me how to stand up against such a mega-group, every night. It’s like to be on tour with them every night for years, it’s kinda like, it’s almost like a boxer who spars with two people in the ring at the same time, all the time. So then when you get out there against one, it’s much easier, you know. But yeah we had… I remember the first time I met Run, you know I said yeah “I’m LL. I made, “I Need A Beat.” Run said, “No, you didn’t. Say the words.” And I rapped it for him, and he went and asked Russell [simmons].You know, one of the great guys, I have a lot of respect for him and DMC. May Jam Master Jay rest in peace, completely and totally, that was ridiculous. But as a group, I have the utmost respect. I mean, I learned a lot from them. You know, I studied them, you know, and I just think they’re a great group.

AllHipHop.com: Is it true that “Peter Piper” was originally “Rock the Bells”, the --

LL Cool J: -- Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Peter Piper” was gonna be “Rock the Bells” and you know, but, you know Run lifted me. You know, it makes sense don’t it? “The Bells,” I was going through it, you know Rick [Rubin], I guess he felt like you know he had to do it to his little man [LL], like they’re all sick as a dog cause it was my idea, you know, sick. But you know in Jam Master Jay’s defense, he probably loved the “Mardi Gras” track too, because we all grew up on it, especially from that generation. We grew up with that music was the [bob James’] “Mardi Gras” beat. So you know, it is what it is. You know, maybe I do [“Rock the Bells”] anyways.

AllHipHop.com: In the late ‘90s, you had a few freestyles on a Kay Slay “Street Sweeper” mixtape, where you talked about a notorious drug dealer Alpo and you rhyme Italian. You remember that?

LL Cool J: Yeah, yeah. At the time, like when I did the albums like Walking With A Panther, when I had all the big Cool J diamond rings and minks, and girls with champagne, Hip-Hop didn’t embrace it then. But that was the street. That’s what Alpo and them were doing. That’s when my man Chuck and them were doing and you know that’s what [convicted drug-dealers] AZ and Rich [Porter] and all of those guys from 132th [street in Harlem], these are all the guys that I grew up around, and that’s what they were doing, and I was doing it, I was bringing that street culture and that urban inner city New York thing to music. But they weren’t ready for it. See, what I’m saying, like it wasn’t until Jay-Z and Puffy and them did it, ten years later - then people were really ready for all of that.

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LL's one of the realest mcs of the game, I just don't get how some so-called hip-hop fans could say he fell off after reading that interview

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Thanx man. That was a really dope interview. LL is so down to earth. Can't believe people are saying he fell off.

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When u are in the game for 7 years or longer...the non-fans always say u fell off.

:word: Like The Source said recently if LL died 15 years ago more people would be saying he's "The G.O.A.T." now and probably if Pac and Biggie were still alive today more'd say they fell off too, but real recognises real, like LL said in that interview though he doesn't mind if he receives criticism as long as he does what he feels he should do in his heart, I'm gonna be going to get the album soon to show my support, btw they added a secord part now, there's a great point he made about how you don't have to grow up as a drug dealer to get a record deal, but record labels don't seem to think that way, that sends a bad message to kids who think that they have to disrespect women and sell drugs to get ahead in the world, LL for president!!:

LL Cool J: Nice Guys Finish First: Part Two

By Amanda Diva

LL Cool J continues his revealing conversation with AllHipHop.com. Mr. Smith reflects on his newest niche in the fashion game, and gives some wise historic context to some changing trends in the Hip-Hop game. Read on…

AllHipHop.com: You’re back in the clothing game with a new line…

LL Cool J: Yeah, the Todd Smith one. This is actually my third line that I’ve been involved in. [The] first line I was involved in a long time ago was T.R.O.O.P. - many years ago, in the late ‘80’s. And the second one that I got involved with in the early ‘90s up to the late 90’s was FUBU - which I’m still one of the owners of, but which has matured. I haven’t endorsed FUBU for about six or seven years because it was time for me to just go somewhere else. This is more music-related. The line is luxury. That was the risk I wanted to take. It’s very high-end, I brought the great designers I could find over, some of them from the UK, in order to help me put together the collection. Its men’s and ladies’ ready-to-wear, definitely high-end, in you know on a tier, on a level of Venia, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Chloe, and Dolce & Gabbana. In that, it’s all in that tier.

AllHipHop.com: What made you decide to go that route as opposed to you know the more urban route that every other artist goes?

LL Cool J: Because it’s more of a challenge, and I wanted to build a real company and a real business. I’m not doing this clothing line for it to be an extension of my fan club. I’m doing a clothing line because I want to build a company, and because I have this creative drive in me that I can’t, that I got to get out of me. No matter what I’m doing- if it’s a movie, if it’s music, if it’s TV, if it’s a fashion - I just have something inside of me that wants to build. So I want to build a company. And the way to build a real company is for me to put out a luxury brand, because that’s where my mind is at. I’m not just t-shirts and jeans anymore. This is an extension of where my mind is at. And my mind really is, you know thinking about, you know. private jets and luxury goods and you know, eating at the finest restaurants in the entire world, and dealing with the most important people in the entire world, on the entire globe. And I really do think like that. So I want the brand to represent that. It’s big.

AllHipHop.com: You said [in Part One] that you still do Hip-Hop for love. Do you think that there’s anything that’s negative that’s brought to the game for folks who don’t do it for love?

LL Cool J: You know what, not really. Because I can’t judge the people that don’t do it for love. I mean, their careers will reflect that.

AllHipHop.com: You think?

LL Cool J: Of course. Of course they will. I mean, remember the movie’s not over. The credits haven’t rolled yet.

AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like the credits are rolling anytime soon, on Hip-Hop?

LL Cool J: No, I think every individual is a different story and a different book. Every human being is a different movie. So you’re gonna have to wait to see the end, the credits on each of these individuals that you have in mind before you can really determine what the end is. So, it’s like that’s the beauty of being able to read a biography of someone that lived long ago. You can see all the mistakes and how it ended up. Because how it ends up, is not always how it looks the way it is in Chapter 7.

AllHipHop.com: What role do you think the streets play in Hip-Hop today as opposed to early in your career?

LLCoolJ: The streets have always been… it’s always been part of me. I mean, the same songs that me and my man, Shabazz would talk about on the train, and the beats that we would come up with, is the same stuff we did in the studio. So there was always a street vibe. But I think that Run-DMC ushered in the real kind of, the street corner attitude to a certain extent. I mean, there were always groups that were doing it, like Cowboy and the Furious Five were very street guys. You know, the Furious Five was more party oriented and you know a lot of their routines, when you look into “Flash to the Beat,” one of their original routines, and all of that was street Hip-Hop like the Force MC’s before they were Force MD’s, Busy Bee, Grand Wizard Theodore, and a lot of their battles and all of that had a street vibe to it. So you know, I don’t have a problem with the street thing at all.

I think that the main thing is that you don’t necessarily have to have been a drug dealer, or have to have had a drug experience in the street in order to be credible as a rapper. You know, there’s like a lot of confusion, where people get a little confused about that. You know it’s really just about, you know are you nice on the mic and can you captivate the crowd and what are you, you know do you have a skill set? Whether it was performing, or freestyling, or maybe he’s a little more lyrical, but he can do this, you know everybody had their thing that they do. For me, the street part it’s important. My roots are important. I love the street - the positive aspects of the street. I don’t like the pain. I don’t like the fact that we have a lot of people who feel like they have absolutely no choice in life but to go out there and do wrong in order to succeed. I don’t like that part of it. But I do love my community, and love my neighborhood, and my hood. I would never try to act like I don’t, because I will never outgrow my love I have for my community. I stand on the shoulders of my community. That’s my foundation - other than God of course. But you know, at the same time, I think the street thing can get a little over done. It can limit your creativity.

Edited by bigted
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Is this album any good?

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I bought the album yesterday, I think it's better than his last couple albums combined, it got a lot of heart and soul to it, I'm definately gonna be bumpin' this all summer :wiggle:

btw, I was checking LL's message board and a girl posted about how she attended LL's "Life and Rhymes" special that was shown on MTV the other day, it shows you how LL keeps it real to his fans, lol:


LL, if you read this, please know that you have made your TRUE fans dream come true! I attended the taping of "Life And Rhymes" for MTV2 and you called me onstage to sign my copy of your autobiography. I have been in love with you since 1990 "Around The Way Girl." My friends remember when I wrote the lyrics to that song on my trapper keeper. I felt that song was written specifically about me!! I just wanted to share that since I read your autobiography, I have a deeper respect for you. I love the part when you talk about your kids going to Benihana's! Not many of your fans can say this, but I have a scar on my left inner knee from trying to "freak" the tv with one leg up when you came on some TV show I HAVE SCARS FOR YOU LL!!!! In any case, when you brought me onstage and signed my book for millions of people to see, it just solidified everything I ever imagined you to be and you have truly made me a fan for life. I was the biggest LL fan ever (since Krush Grove), but know, I'm totally obsessed!! I love you so much and wish God bless you and your family always. I WILL BE PICKING UP YOUR ALBUM TOMORROW, APRIL 11TH!!!


P.S. Whenever my husband has anything smart to say to me, I now reply to him by saying "LL would never talk to me that way, LL said he loved me!"


Edited by bigted
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"We're Gonna Make It" definately needs to be released as a single, probably LL's most powerful song since "Father" in my mind, it's the type of song that could impact the rap industry in a big way, that song "I've Changed" with Ryan Toby is another one of my favorites on there too, this is definately another solid album in Uncle L's catalog no doubt, btw here's a review from Allhiphop.com I just found on it, they're really showin' love to the real mcs, that's become one of my favorite sites, I might rate some of the tracks myself later:

Todd Smith

Artist: LL Cool J

Title: Todd Smith

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Reviewed by: The Closer

What more can be said about the career of the original Hip-Hop Icon? LL Cool J has been an enduring presence in Hip-Hop for the duration of it’s mainstream history. Before the Tupac’s, the B.I.G.s and the Jiggas ,and even before the Snoops, there was the Uncle. The Future of the funk. The very definition of trailblazing legend, LL has dropped many styles and flows over his years as the prince of rap from adolescence to grown man. Here on his 12th go round, you can see his growth and progress. Todd Smith (Island Def Jam), the new joint, features an LL focused on staying in his lane.

The album opens up with the driving “It’s LL and Santana”, a pairing with one of the upcoming lions in the game, labelmate Juelz Santana. The point of the song is two-fold; to connect LL with today’s generation of Hip-Hoppers and to introduce Juelz to a wider audience. The song features a driving beat but lacks the chemistry and strength of Cool J’s earlier collaborations like “Rampage” with EPMD or 4,3,2,1 with Method Man, Redman, DMX and, ahem, Canibus .

Much of the album is produced by the famous Trakmasters duo. Unfortunately that’s where the problem arises. A significant portion of the album feels dated. “Favorite Flavor” featuring Mary J. Blige feels mired in 1994. While that was a great year for Hip-Hop, it’s 12 years behind in evolution. Been there, done that. Also dragging the album down is the melancholy “Freeze”, which pairs Cool J with promising newcomer Lyfe Jennings. Jennings is underwhelming and the Uncle’s flow is formulaic for the too-slow beat. It doesn’t take advantage of LL’s energy and charisma at all. Thumbs down on that one.

All is not lost however. The album begins to pick up with the energetic “What You Want” featuring dynamic chemistry and an old school feel with Cool J spitting back-and-forth heat with Freeway with an old school rapid delivery. The album begins to change direction and gains steam with the dramatic and powerful “I’ve Changed” which features a “Song Cry”-esque story of love lost and it’s-not-overism. New Comer Ryan Toby delivers an eerie performance reminiscent of a young Curtis Mayfield. This is easily the highlight of the album and LL at his storytelling finest with a sense of desperation and passion. Other highlights feature the Latin-tinged “#1 Fan”, the spiritually inspiring “We’re Gonna Make It”, featuring Mary Mary, and the “Planet Rock” inspired and Jermaine Dupri-produced lead single “Control Myself”. The cherry on top is the “Human Nature” powered “So-Sick Remix”, which sounds like an early 90’s Ron G mixtape blend.

All in all, LL manages to stay in the lane he’s carved out. The muscle bound man is no longer getting his face in the sand, and the Mama inspired knockout artist is married with children and happily making that cheddar. Nothing wrong with that. Todd Smith is a solid disk and a welcome dose of love and upliftment in the present misogynist Hip-Hop environment. Just don’t call it a comeback. Mature listeners only.

Edited by bigted
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Bump for anyone that missed it!

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